Minneapolis fire murder charges: 'Everyone in the apartment is going to die'

Image 1 of 6

Arson and murder charges were filed Tuesday against the man accused of setting fire to a three-floor apartment building at 1500 Park Avenue in Minneapolis. The fire left one man dead and his girlfriend in critical condition after they jumped from a third floor window.

Marcus Shanks, 30, is charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson. A witness told police they tried to stop Shanks from setting fire to the building, but he allegedly said, "No, everyone in the apartment is going to die," before dropping a match.

Police found 59-year-old Royce James lying face down in the grass on the southeast side of the building when they arrived on scene at about 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6. He appeared to have severe burns over a majority of his body and later passed away at Hennepin County Medical Center. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be multiple blunt force injuries.

Police also found James’ girlfriend, Vicki Ness, alive but unresponsive outside the apartment building. She had suffered burns to her hands, feet, and face and remains in critical condition at HCMC. Doctors at HCMC determined Ness suffered fractures to her femur and pelvis in addition to her burn injuries. She is currently intubated and has not regained consciousness.

Investigators learned James and Ness lived together on the third floor of the building, and it is believed they jumped from a third floor window during the fire.

"It was three minutes of horrible," said Jenna Harper, who lives nearby and jumped in to help residents of the building to safety Friday evening. "I'm literally sprinting around with the paramedics and firefighters. Just because you don't have a degree in this or you weren't trying to do it, doesn't mean you can't help people."

A first floor resident of the building told police they opened their door and saw the suspect holding three red and white cans. The suspect was dousing the east stairwell in lighter fluid and tossed a towel or t-shirt soaked in lighter fluid onto the steps.

When the resident told the suspect to stop, he allegedly said, “No, everyone in the apartment is going to die.” The suspect allegedly then lit a match and threw it onto the area he had doused with lighter fluid. The suspect was then spotted running up to the second floor, then running back down and out the front door onto Park Avenue.

The resident told police they recognized the suspect and knew his as “Memphis.”

The initial arson investigation revealed multiple areas of origin on each of the three floors of the building and “no indication of accidental ignition sources in the areas of origin.”

On Saturday, Oct. 7, a Minneapolis police officer saw Shanks pounding on the door on the south side of 1506 Park Avenue. As the officer got closer, she could smell a strong odor of smoke on Shanks. He was taken into custody and the resident who witnessed the starting of the fire identified him as the suspect.

OCT. 7: Man arrested after fatal apartment fire in south Minneapolis

Investigators determine there were at least 20 residents in the apartment building at the time of the fire. Based on this number, prosecutors are seeking an aggravated sentence against Shanks if he is convicted.

READ THIS NEXT - Woman displaced by apartment fire counts her blessings